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The Labyrinth of the Spirits

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Member Reviews

Love books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This did not disappoint, and I have recommended to many friends. Thank you for writing such wonderful works.

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Stories have no beginning and no end, only doors through which one may enter them. A story is an endless labyrinth of words, images, and spirits, conjured up to show us the invisible truth about ourselves.'

It's nearly ten years since I read The Shadow of the Wind and it's taken me four years to get around to reading this one, the fourth and last book in the author's The Cemetary of Forgotten Books 'series'. The reason I put the word series in inverted commas is that the books do not unfold chronologically and in fact are designed to be read in any order.  The plots of the four books intertwine, going back and forth in time. For example, the second book, The Angel's Game, is effectively a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. The fact the books are designed to be read in any order is just as well as, although some of the names of characters were familiar to me, I can recollect very little of what happened in The Shadow of the Wind - apart, that is, from the fact I loved it. Although I rarely re-read books, I might just make this an exception.

At over 800 pages, The Labyrinth of the Spirits is the longest book I've read for ages. It also happens to be the oldest book on my NetGalley shelf and so I have the team behind the #NetGalleyNovember reading challenge to thank for finally giving me the motivation to read it.

The plot of the book is, to coin a phrase, labyrinthine. It's so full of twists and turns it could make you dizzy. Reading the book is a bit like being in a maze in which, for a lot of the time, you have no idea where you are and you just have to keep going in the hope the author will eventually lead you to the exit. Don't worry, he will but not before a lot of unexpected revelations and events that will take you by surprise, including making you wince a bit.

There is an extensive cast of characters who range from the vile to the virtuous. All are brilliantly imagined, even if they only play a minor role - a taxi driver, a caretaker, a morgue attendant. We learn how they dress, how they walk, their mannerisms, how they speak, what they like to drink or eat, even what newspaper they read or what music they like to listen to. And the author is not afraid to sacrifice his characters. Around two thirds of the way through the book I found myself cursing him for getting rid of one of my favourites.

Alicia Gris is the main character and focus of the book, second only to the exuberant Fermin Romero de Torres, one of my favourite characters. Orphaned during the war, Alicia's experiences have left her emotionally and physically starred. The resilience and fortitude she demonstrated in overcoming these obstacles have brought her to the attention of 'mentor and puppet master', Leandro Montalvo, who has moulded her into a supremely effective agent,  renowned for getting results where others have failed.  I thought Alicia was a brilliant character. She's intelligent, feisty, resourceful, observant, fiercely independent but is, by choice, a loner who leads a spartan lifestyle. Spiky at times, she is also utterly ruthless when the need arises.

It's probably no surprise that books, authorship and storytelling are themes that run through the book. There are scenes in libraries, in the Sempere & Sons bookshop and in the fantastical Cemetary of Forgotten Books.  The author also take the reader on an insider's tour of Barcelona in the late 1950s, revealing its historic hidden gems and secret places as well areas of the city you definitely don't want to visit after night.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits has everything I look for in historical fiction: passion, intrigue, adventure and a completely immersive experience. It's definitely a book to lose yourself in.

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Thank you to the publisher for my eARC copy of this book. Unfortunately I didn’t love this book and therefore didn’t finish, I just didn’t connect with this one. Not for me, sorry.

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I had only read the first book in the series but I still enjoyed this as a stand alone read. A beautifully written magical world with great character development.

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I hadn't read the previous books in the series (which would potentially help!) but I still enjoyed the read. A magical world created with so many layers to it. I feel like I would enjoy the character development a lot more had I read the previous books, but I don't feel that this takes away from the story itself. At times the pace was a little slow, and the book is long, but I enjoyed in nonetheless.

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I really liked the author’s earlier works. However, I don’t know if I read this book at the wrong time, but it just couldn’t grasp my attention. It’s a perfectly serviceable book, but it lost me.

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I took a long time to read and properly engage with this book. Perhaps because I knew it would be the last in a long and beautiful series, but also because I felt the timing was wrong the first time around.

This long and enchanting novel weaves together the threads from all the previous in the quadrilogy (which began of course, with Shadow of the Wind). It does so beautifully, and in a hugely satisfying manner. Carlos Ruiz Zafon remains (and likely, always will be) one of my favourite authors and a master story-teller.

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Whilst this wasn't quite up there with the other books in this series, it was still and enjoyable read and it was good to back in this world. A fitting end to the series and thankfully completed before Zafon's death.

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I haven't read any of the previous books in this quartet but I didn't find that a problem. This is a complex, rich and intriguing book, a tad too long for me maybe, but a satisfying read. It certainly kept my interest and I loved the historical details and atmosphere of early 20th Century Barcelona. Made me want to visit there and also read the earlier books.

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Another gripping instalment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Carlos Ruiz Zafón has created a magical world that is easy for any reader to picture in their mind, and the translator Lucia Graves has a beautiful way with words that brings the magic to life in an almost effortless fashion. The cultural and historical elements are as engaging and as dark as ever before (Franco's Spain), and provide a much-needed educational element.

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The Labyrinth of Spirits is the fourth and final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It was a book about a number of different themes. It had mystery and intrigue, love, madness, regret and longing and infinite sadness all to a backdrop of Franco's Spain. An excellent read.
I began reading it without first realizing it was book number four. Once I finished it, I bought all four books and read them one after the other. Wonderful!

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I suppose you could read this novel as a standalone piece, and the same could be said of the other three books in this series. But to me that just doesn’t make sense. Equally nonsensical to me is the author’s assertion that the books can be read in any order. Really? I’ve read many series in random order and sometimes that works just fine but occasionally you come across one that relies quite heavily on a pre-knowledge of prior events or of characters who have graced the pages in an earlier episode and whose back story you are totally oblivious. This can really compromise enjoyment of the tale you’re currently immersed in. And I think that this is very much the case here. So unless you’ve already dipped your toe into the tales of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, do yourself a favour and start at the beginning and work your way through. You might want to take some notes too, because there are a lot of characters and many linkages you’ll need to keep track of. Do this and I believe you’re in for an absolute treat!

The stories cover a period spanning 1919 – 1992 and at the core is the Sempere family who run a bookshop in Barcelona. It’s hard to pin down which genre you’d place the books in – they seem to embrace fantasy, mystery, magical realism, historical fiction and crime fiction too. There’s certainly a good sprinkling of Spanish history here, particularly in the focus on the banning and the burning of books and the missing children of the Franco years. The time frame is jumpy and this doesn’t make it any easier to keep a clear track of events, but this also gives the overall tale width and depth. A sense of not quite knowing what’s going on becomes the norm. The characters are engaging and range from the angelic to the completely repulsive. It’s dark most of the time, particularly in this last book.

For the record, this final chapter focusses on a new character called Alicia Gris who is employed by the Secret Police to track down the missing Culture Minister, Don Mauricio Valls. Reader of the earlier books will know that Valls is a self-serving egomaniac and that, in truth, the world would be better place were he to be permanently removed from it. Alicia is joined by a partner who has been foisted upon her, called Vargas, and together they dive deep into the murky underworld of Barcelona. The chemistry between the two is expertly developed and I quickly found immensely enjoying their interactions. The plotting is clever too, as I’d grown to expect, and overall the story is told in a way that is both charming and completely captivating. I won’t go into the detail of the book other than to say that all loose ends are tied off here and – if you’ve been paying attention throughout the series – it all ultimately makes sense.

If I have a bone to pick it would be that the language (translated from the author’s native Spanish) is sometimes a little flowery and maybe some scenes are a little protracted. But if that’s my only complaint in over 800 pages here, and in 2000 plus pages across the the four books, then I feel that I’m possibly being a little picky. It really is a magnificent body of work. The stories are big enough to block out the world around you as you slip deep into the world Zafon has created and full of characters who become more, much more, than just names in the pages of a book. A poetic, gothic masterpiece of gargantuan proportions. I’m just sad I’ve reached the end of it.

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When I saw that Zafon had released a fourth in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series and that the book was available on Netgalley, I eagerly requested it and couldn't believe my luck at being approved! Having only read The Shadow of the Wind at that point, which I loved, I was fascinated by where the story might go by the fourth book. I set about reading the second and third books in the series: The Angel's Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. It was at this point that, when researching the series, I learnt they could be read in any order. What a great idea!

Reading The Labryrinth of the Spirits was a mixed bag for me: it was a return to many of the characters that I'd come to love over the course of the series so far but it really was far too long a book and parts of it really dragged, particularly the middle portion where it felt like a detective novel; not something I'd expected from this series. Whilst Alicia's search for the truth was a long and winding path, I found myself getting bored by the level of detail. So at this point, I would've rated it three stars as I was about 60% in and had, at several points, considered giving up with my review being just that. However, having persevered -- driven by a combination of having loved the other books and wanting to do justice to having been given an ARC -- there finally seemed to be progression at the rate I wanted. When one of the characters meets an unexpected end (sadface), things really started to feel like they were moving quickly and I was once more engrossed! The ending was bitter sweet: the sweetness of the return of yet more characters from elsewhere in the series and a resolution of some plot lines, but also the feeling that the series was now complete. Overall, I think the second half of the book did make it enjoyable: I was reminded how much I loved this series and the characters, I truly appreciate Zafon's ability to weave together multiple threads and I enjoy his writing style. So ultimately, I would rate it four stars, but I almost didn't finish!

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What a treat to return to the world of The Shadow of the Wind, one of my favourite novels! This book draws on old characters while adding a new and interesting cast. I didn't personally realise the series was now a quartet, and I suspect if I'd read the third novel it would have filled some holes. However Carlos Ruiz Zafon is such a fantastic writer I did find it easy to follow; just, as with most things, the full picture is often the most beautiful.

"The hope every maker of tales carries within: that readers will open their hearts to these little creatures made of ink and paper, and give them a part of themselves so they can be immortal, even if only for a few minutes."

This is a really special series by a special writer. The magical world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is one I hope to return to again and again. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read.

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Labyrinth of the Spirits is the final of the Cemetery of Forgotten books quartet. We meet Daniel and Fermin again but this tie a new detective joins the cast. If you have read the first three books you are in for a treat. If you haven't don't hesitate to pick up The Labyrinth of the Spirits, it is the elegant rounding up of a series but also works as a stand alone story. This is Spain and Barcelona not as the sunny holiday destinations that we know but dark places in the Franco era. I stayed up too late reading to find out what happened next.

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I have just finished The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I have previously read The Shadow of the Wind and loved it and this book was no different however I realise that this is book 4 so I have missed out 2 & 3 which would have filled out some parts of this book although they can be read stand alone. The book spans many years beginning pre war in Barcelona to the 1990's. There are different stories running together and I really can't describe the book and do it justice. It is 832 pages long and took me a couple of months to get through but every day was a treat to read it. Like The Shadow of the Wind, much of the book revolves around a labyrinthine hidden library but there is also some blood and gore and mystery. I loved the characters and might well tackle series 2 and 3. Definitely recommend if you fancy something different!

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So this is the 4th book in The Cemetary of Forgotten Books series. It is an 800+ page book that I very easily found myself disappearing into. It pieces together the remaining pieces of past puzzles and wrapping them up.

This book has a darker feel to it than previous books, but it is a few years since I last read them. It didn’t take me long to remember certain characters and of course, remember how this author can wrap me up in his words.

Its roots are in Spain and I found myself once again drawn into the maze-like streets and atmosphere of Barcelona. An era of unrest and uncertainty as this is the time of Franco, Spanish Civil War, and nationalist airstrikes. The main characters are Daniel, the rather dramatic Fermin and our heroine Alicia Gris, there are many more other characters that have important roles to play but I will leave you to discover them yourself.

Alicia is trying to complete an assignment, at the end she hopes to be free of her role and start a new life. She is trying to discover the whereabouts of Mauricio Valls, not easy and definitely dangerous. In her investigations, she meets various other characters and the depth of the plot really does start to stand out.

The whereabouts of a mysterious author, Victor Mataix, the secrets of the Sempere family, the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, murder, kidnapping and a whole host of deception, tricks, and foul play are just the tip of the iceberg within the pages

The story itself is laid out in four interlocking stories that lead the reader through the labyrinth that is the story. Each section is intricately woven and leads from plot to plot. I found it easy to follow and though it has a great depth I found myself able to enjoy it a huge amount.

The thing about this book is the fact that it is essentially a multi-genre one. It has murder, mystery, history, suspense and thriller qualities. With everything going on in this book it may come across as being complex, but I found it flowed beautifully. With so many different plots and themes, I am really struggling to find the words to describe how amazing this book, in fact, the whole series has been. So I am going to break it down into basic words that immediately spring to mind when I think about this book…atmospheric, bewitching, heartbreaking, cryptic, dark, mysterious, complex, twisted, beautiful, historical, literary, fabulous, compelling, intriguing, and bloody brilliant…I think that sort of sums it up.

This is a book and a series I would absolutely highly recommend.

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The long-awaited novel for those immersed in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This is number 4 in the series and brings closure to the epic tale that began with The Shadow of the Wind in 2001. Each book following 'Shadow' takes the reader on a journey that explores of one of the themes/characters it introduced, as well as keeping Daniel and his family in the frame. For those of you yet to discover the literary universe of the Cemetery of Books, the author states the series can be read in any order, or separately, but be aware that this one does draw all the themes together.

As with previous books in the series, the tale involves numerous stories and with this one a book, within the book so that labyrinthine is definitely the word to describe it. The book is literally an intricate and complicated arrangement of irregular paths that draw you into the heart of the action. At this point I'd like to give a shout out to the translator Lucia Graves, who does an excellent job on keeping the narrative flowing, without losing the beauty and richness of Zafon's prose. At 800 plus pages that is no mean feat.

This book finds us back on Barcelona and opens with Daniel and Fermin (who I love as a character), but the complex tale, introducing the story at the heart of the book, starts a few chapters in. Going back to 1938, we are re-acquainted with Fermin during his dramatic return to Barcelona as a stowaway. On a mercy errand to deliver a letter to his friend's lover and her young daughter Alicia, he is caught up in one of a series of Nationalist airstrikes on the city. Their home is hit and while trying to rescue Alicia,  they become separated. So starts a story that we will follow until its final resolution in 1992. The strikes that devastated Barcelona, were not ordered by General Franco, but rather his ally Mussolini,  in support of the Fascist regime in Spain. This  act of brutality, is one of many that peppers the book as we see exemplified, time and time again, the epithet that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'. 

Alicia survived the bombing and was eventually taken in under the wing of Leandro, her Svengali. For years she has worked for him and his political henchmen in Madrid, but now she wants out. He has promised one last case and she can go. That last case is to search for missing Culture Minister, Mauricio Valls. It is a case, which takes Alicia into an underworld that reveals the depths of mans inhumanity to man. It is dark, despairing, violent and murderous. It is  a place made more horrific, by the thought that the torture and murder it reveals, was more than likely to have been the reality for some during the Franco regime. Furthermore, the story that unfolds of stolen children is undoubtedly true. It reveals a past that even today Spain is still struggling to come to terms with.  

It is while searching for Valls, that Alicia becomes involved with the Sempere family, and what she uncovers directly relates to them. Daniel has always sought the answer as to how his mother died, what Alicia uncovers will finally give Daniel that answer and many more. I want to say nothing more about the plot or the characters, but to leave you to discover them for yourself and make your own mind up. Needless to say I wouldn't be saying that of I didn't think them worthy of your time. 

This is a book which cannot fail to move, whether that be to anger, despair or joy. Zafon has a way of playing with emotions and juxtaposing the good with the bad. He doesn't shy away from presenting the harsh realities, or observing fictional niceties by protecting the good guys. In this book, as with the others, all human life is here. It's an expose of the horrors of war and yet also a love story to the resilience of the human spirit. Having fallen in love with Barcelona, Daniel, Fermin and the Cemetery of Books, way back in 2001, reading this final book is like saying goodbye to an old friend, knowing that the end has finally come. I don't know what, if anything, Zafon has planned for the future, but if and when it happens, I'll be in the queue along with many others waiting to discover.

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I first read The Shadow of the Wind years ago and very much enjoyed it. I haven't had the opportunity to read books two and three in the intervening years but I'm so glad I took the time to read this fourth title in The Cemetery of Lost Books series. I will certainly now be making the time to read the other two titles, but I don't think not having read them spoilt my enjoyment of the book. The writing was just as atmospheric as I remembered and I just couldn't get the characters out of my head. An epic at 800 + pages, I still took every opportunity to slip back into late fifties Barcelona and discover its secrets as the mysteries unravelled, although the writing was so chilling on occasions I forgot to breathe. Definitely a sleep stealer, but worth every sleepless minute.

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Another Major Zafon Blockbuster

How on earth does one start a review of this incredible book? It’s a daunting prospect, but let’s make a start.

“Labyrinth” is a hefty read and its scope stretches from 1938 in the middle of the Spanish Civil War through to the time of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. It’s an impossible story to describe, but everything about it is labyrinthine – its title, its complexity, in the way the reader is continually fed red herrings. Many times I was sure that finally, at last, I could understand what was going on, only to find a door in front of me that opened into yet another part of the labyrinth. And another, and still another.

The story is set in Barcelona, much of it in the dark, dangerous underbelly of the city where nobody trusts anybody, especially the police. Horror stories from the times of the Spanish Inquisition expose the vicious streak of the cruelty inherent in the Spanish psyche (I refuse to believe it can be in all of them) and many of the less savoury characters in the book exhibit this character trait to a scarily high degree.

In the three previous books in the "Cemetery of Lost Books" series, the stories become progressively darker in colour, and “Labyrinth” is no exception. The heroine is one Alicia Gris, a beautiful, fascinatingly complex woman carrying a painful injury from the bombings in Barcelona during the Civil War when she was a child. In time she becomes one of the best secret agents in the Police intelligence services and is given the almost impossible task of tracing a missing high profile politician in Franco’s government with a secret but highly questionable past. But it appears that nothing is what it seems to be, everybody has something to hide, and Alicia, friendless by choice, can trust nobody.

Our old friends from the first three books, the gentle Sempere Senior and his son Daniel from the Sempere and Sons bookshop, Daniel’s wife Bea and son Julian, all become unwittingly involved in Alicia’s story. And, of course, the irrepressible Fermin Romero de Torres, the self-styled bibliographic adviser to the Sempere and Sons bookshop and who is fiercely loyal to the Sempere’s. Fermin has more testosterone coursing through his body that is good for a man of his age, and is never short of an apt and pithy comment (an example: " Liquor is like rat poison or generosity – the more you make use of it, the less effective it becomes."),

However, Daniel is hiding a secret from his family ...

Central to the story is the unforgettable Cemetery of Forgotten Books with its labyrinthine interior where, to quote, “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul ... Every book you see (here) has been somebody’s best friend.”

This giant of a book is the fourth in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series, and while each one of the four can be enjoyed on its own, “Labyrinth” is a continuation of the first three. A fascinating aspect is that it sort of reviews itself.

It describes its story as kaleidoscopic, as being like a set of Russian dolls (“as the reader advanced into its pages, he would feel that the story was piecing itself together like a game of Russian dolls in which each plot and each character led to the next, and that, in turn, to yet another, and so on and so forth.”) - and as a jigsaw puzzle “in which the reader is the one who must finish the jigsaw puzzle and decide what kind of book it is.” Perhaps there will be a sequel.

A Prologue almost at the end of (but integral to) the story gives us a tantalising clue as to what may, possibly, come to be in the fullness of time...

Zafon’s writing is, as always, lyrical, beautiful and elegant, and Lucia Graves’ brilliant translation deserves the highest praise. The book is full of what I call “chewing the cud” moments which you will want to read, re-read and savour.

I could hardly bear to put it down. My advice: buy it, switch off your phone and lock yourself away from the world until you’ve finished reading it. It is definitely worth every one of its five stars.

Bennie Bookworm.

Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.

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